Thursday, August 11, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Va’etchanan – D’varim (Deuteronomy) 3:23 – 7:11


If there is one term that typifies the book of D'varim, it is "transition" - or "avor" in Hebrew, stemming from the root. e.v.r, (ayin, vet/bet, resh) meaning to "traverse, cross over, pass by or through, transgress, get angry/cross, other side, for the sake of and fords, or passageway", being also the root for the word “Hebrew”.  This term, with some of those derivatives, shows up many times in Parashat Va’etchanan, which is why we will follow it not only there, but also throughout the book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy). This excursion will also provide an opportunity to observe, once again, patterns of the Hebrew mindset and the compactness of the language, as well as the mutual effect of thought and language on each other. We will see how “avor” lends D’varim its special character, and in turn how it expresses the calling of the People of Yisrael.


In Sh'mot (Exodus) the Hebrews passed over from one state of existence (slavery) to another (freedom and redemption) as well as to a new geographical location, by crossing the Sea of Reeds. Here, in Dvarim, they are about to experience another crossing. This time it is the Yarden, which is to become the passageway that will lead them to the land promised them by YHVH. They will, once again, go through a change of status, ceasing to be nomads. In the past we have noted that "Hebrews"- "Ivrim" - are those who are destined for transitions of one form or another. This group of people is seen here (and throughout Scripture) fulfilling this very destiny, already alluded to by the name of their progenitor Ever (Eber, Gen. 11:14,15) mentioned five generations before Avraham, whose name they bore.  However, nowhere is the "passing" or "crossing" – designated by e.v.r (ayin, bet/vet, resh) - more evident than in D'varim, where the term is used in several connotations forming, as it were, a series of milestones that enable us to accompany the Israelites in their journeys and transitions as depicted in this book.


Already in Dvarim’s opening verse, we see Moshe addressing "all Israel on the side of the Jordan – Ever ha'Yarden" (1:1 italics added). Ever (vowel sounds like in “essence”) is "the other side", thus rendering the land on the Yarden's eastern shore, "Ever haYarden".  It was also at "Ever ha'Yarden" where Moshe "began to explain the Torah" (1:5). Sometime later Yehoshua (Joshua) reminds the Israelites of another "ever" -  the place where their forefathers came from, saying: "Thus says YHVH the Elohim of Israel: `Your fathers Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side [ever] of the River in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side [ever] of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac'" (Josh. 24:2,3 italics and emphases added).


In recounting the wilderness journey and its adventures, Moshe says, "We came through [a'va'rnu] the nations which you passed by [a'va'rtem]… "(Deut. 29:16 italics added). About these nations, he made earlier comments, recalling YHVH’s words to him: "You are passing [ovrim] by the border of your brothers, the sons of Esau" (2:4).  And as to the actual event: "And we passed [va'na'vor] and turned beyond our brother the sons of Esau… and we passed [va'na'vor] by way of the Wilderness of Moab" (2:8). “And the time we took to come from Kadesh Barnea until we crossed over [avarnu] the Valley of the Zered was thirty-eight years, until all the generation of the men of war was consumed from the midst of the camp, just as YHVH had sworn to them" (2:14). Although the wording here appears to be recounting technical details, it captures the tragedy that the Israelites brought upon themselves - the passing on of an entire generation. Preceding the crossing of this river (Zered), YHVH exhorted the Israelites: “Now rise up, and go over [e’e’vru] the river Zered! And we went over [va’na’avor] the river Zered” (2:13, italics added).


The next “crossing over" [o-ver in Hebrew] (2:18) was through the territory of Moav and Ammon, that according to YHVH's word was not to be trampled. But the command to "cross [e’e’vru]" the River Arnon, was different! The land of Sichon, the Amorite king, was to come under Yisrael's dominion. The Amorites ignored the message, "Let me pass through [e'ebra] your land; I will keep strictly to the road, and I will turn neither to the right nor to the left. You shall sell me food for money, that I may eat, and give me water for money, that I may drink; only let me pass through [e'ebra] on foot, just as the descendants of Esau who dwell in Seir and the Moabites who dwell in Ar did for me, until I cross [e'evor] the Jordan to the land which YHVH our Elohim is giving us" (2:27,28 italics added). Instead, "Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass through [ha'a'virenu]" (v. 30 italics added). Thus, the land of the Amorites was conquered. A similar fate awaited Og the king of Bashan, whose land was also subjugated by the Israelites. Moshe recalls: "We took the land from the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were on this side of the Jordan [Ever haYarden], from the River Arnon to Mount Hermon" (3:8 italics added).


This was also the land requested by the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half of Menashe, who had to meet one condition: "All you men of valor shall cross over [ta'avru] armed before your brethren, the children of Israel" (3:18 italics added), in order to help them take control of the Promised Land. Moshe continues, promising to Yehoshua: "YHVH will do to all the kingdoms through which you pass [over]" (v. 21), what He had done to the former kingdoms”.


In addition to the above promise, there is an even greater one (preceded by the words "Sh'ma Yisrael - Hear O Israel" in 9:1): "Therefore understand today that YHVH your Elohim is He who goes over [ha'over] before you as a consuming fire" (9:3 italics added). And moreover, "YHVH your Elohim Himself crosses over [o’ver] before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over [o’ver] before you, just as YHVH has said" (31:3 italic added). The "crossing over [ovrim] to possess" or "inherit" the land is also an inseparable part of the description of the Land itself, as everything about its conditions constitutes a major change-over and transition from the setting of the desert (for details see 11:10 -12).


And while Moshe was thus preparing the nation, which he had so greatly nurtured and for whom he had been willing to give up his life, he did not conceal from them and from posterity the sad fact that he had "pleaded with YHVH at that time, saying: ‘O my Adonai YHVH, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand… I pray, let me cross over [e'ebra] and see the good land beyond [ever] the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.’ But YHVH was angry [va'yita'ber] with me on your account, and would not listen to me" (3:23-26 italics added). Yes, "angry" in this context is also made up of the root ayin, vet/bet, resh! Thus, there is more than one way to 'cross over'. ‘Crossing over' to the 'wrong side' and 'crossing' YHVH's will, will incur His anger (“evrah”).


Moshe continues to relate his plight, as pronounced by YHVH: "Go up to the top of Pisgah, and lift your eyes toward the west, the north, the south, and the east; behold it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over [ta'avor] this Jordan. But command Joshua, and encourage him and strengthen him; for he shall go over [ya'avor] before this people…" (3: 27,28 italics added). Just before Moshe's death on Mount Nevo (Nebo), called here “Avarim” (32:49) - the Mount of Crossing - he is once again reminded by his Elohim, "I have caused you to see it [the land] with your eyes, but you shall not cross over [ta'avor] there" (34:4 italics added). In Psalm 106:32 this story is repeated: “They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes [ba’a’vu’ram]” (italics added). The singular form “(ba)avu’r” literally means “one who has been caused to pass over”.  Thus, even a common preposition such as “for someone’s sake” is rooted in e.v.r – i.e. “crossing or passing over” - pointing to the centrality of this term and to an active force, or agent, outside of one’s self who, as this preposition shows, acts as the Prime Cause.


In our text, the covenant and the commandments are not 'passed over' either.  In his discourse, Moshe elaborates extensively on these issues. YHVH made another covenant with the Children of Yisrael, "in the land of Moab besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb… that you may enter [le'ov'recha] into covenant with YHVH your Elohim" (Deut. 29:1,12 italics added). Thus, in “entering” this covenant they were literally "crossing" into it. "Transgressing" YHVH's commandments, according to 26:13 is also referred to as "crossing". Some of these commandments are: "When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged [ya'avor] with any business…" (24:5 italics added), and "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through [ma'avir] the fire…" (18:10 italics added). "For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, `Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Nor is it beyond [meh’ever] the sea, that you should say, `Who will go over [ya'avor] the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it" (30:11-14 italics added). According to these words, it appears that fulfilling Elohim's Word does not necessarily require a physical crossing or passing over; it is simply a matter of turning inwardly, to that which He has already deposited there  (see Rom. 8:11).


Finally, "And it shall be, on the day when you [plural] cross over [ta'avru] the Jordan to the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over [be'ovre'cha], that you may enter the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as YHVH the Elohim of your fathers promised you. Therefore it shall be, when you [plural] have crossed over [be'ovre'chem] the Jordan, that on Mount Ebal you shall set up these stones, which I command you today…" (27:2-4 italics added). Thus, the "crossing over" is to be marked by stones that were to be a testimony of a genuine "crossing over" and a “change over” undertaken by the Hebrews, the 'People of Transition'!


The root e.v.r, however, is also being applied to the enemies of Yisrael. Prior to the actual crossing, Yehoshua sent two spies to Yericho (Jericho). These two were pursued by men who themselves had to cross the Yarden’s "fords”. These “fords” are “ma’a’barot,” literally, “that which enables passage” (ref. Josh. 2:7).


Interestingly, the Hebrew translation for Hebrews 6:20, speaking about the Place of the Presence (behind the veil), states that Yeshua has “gone over” (in Hebrew - ‘o’ver’) there for us, as a forerunner.


In closing, let us pause briefly on “va’etchanan”, the title of our Parasha, which takes us back to its opening verse (3:23) where Moshe pleads with YHVH to let him cross the Yarden. “And I pleaded or implored…” – etchanan – is of the root ch.n.n (chet, noon, noon), which means to “show favor or be gracious”, while “chen” (chet, noon) is “grace” (e.g. Zech. 4:7, 12:10). Thus, he who pleads with, and implores YHVH knows he is invoking His grace, cognizant of the fact that even the pleading itself is linked to YHVH’s compassion and favor active in the one who is pleading with expectancy.


Note: In the synagogue, the Torah scrolls are placed in an ark called “teiva”.  When the representative of the congregation who prays on their behalf stands before the ark, he too is said to be “passing [over] before the teiva”.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Redeeming Tisha Be'Av

 In the next day or so (the actual date is on Shabbat, therefore the day's mourning activities have been pushed to Sunday) the Jewish nation will be honoring a day of remembrance.  This day is Tisha Be’Av (the 9th of the month of Av). It is on this date that both the first and second temples were destroyed.  The 9th of Av takes place after a period of 3 weeks leading up to it – that is, fasting, prayer, and mourning. How could this have happened? Why would Elohim be so angry at His people so as to allow the most sacred edifices to be destroyed? These questions have been discussed time and again. In some way, both temples had become part of our identity, our pride, and joy, perhaps even objects of idolatry.  Does Biblical history leave us a trail of answers to these questions? 

The very first 'temple' where humanity met with Elohim was the Garden of Eden.  It was a place of intimacy with the Creator/Father, one in which righteousness, peace, and joy ruled. Every need was provided, it was a secure, safe haven of rest, comfort, and love.  Heaven and earth were bound together in oneness of life and light. The whole creation sang together praises to their most benevolent Host. 

Our above-raised questions may be answered by looking back, into what was already present before the Garden, or even before the act of creation.  The second verse of Genesis Chapter One describes a place or realm of spiritual darkness named by Elohim, in verse 4, "night".  The condition and nature of that realm were contrary to another realm, one which Elohim called “day” (v. 4). Since the earth and its luminaries were not around until later, it is obvious that these terms describe spiritual realities, which were to play out their respective roles in the creation itself.  

The beautiful world/earth and its seas were brought forth when the “spiritual waters of light”, which were under the firmament, congealed into the form of dryness (earth) and wetness (seas).  But what happened to that spiritual darkness?  One idea is that it was restrained in the molten lava of the earth’s inner core.  Or did Elohim confine its spiritual essence to a tree, with fruit and seed, that He placed in the midst of the Garden of Eden?  A tree that Elohim’s created son was forbidden to eat from, for if he were to do so, he would die. This, obviously, did not mean dropping dead in an instant, but rather it was a separation from the true Light (the Lamb) and HIS nature, with the eventual cessation of physical existence in this realm. As we know, Adam took from his helpmate the fruit of that forbidden tree. In so doing he discovered where Elohim consigned the realm of “darkness” to.  From that moment on Adam's family embodied and expressed the forbidden fruit's nature and character.

Thus, Adam (mankind) entered the realm of “night”.  As a result, his toil in a desert garden would only produce death.  The spiritual power of this tree/kingdom, to which he was now a slave, was destined, from the foundation, to be destroyed. It was Man’s Tisha Be’av.  Hence it was not only the Jewish zealots' hatred for their Hellenistically-inclined brothers, and vice versa, that sent them to exile after the destruction of the second temple, but it was what the apostle Paul calls “the law of sin” that is at work in the heart of every person (ref. Romans 7:23).  No matter how good a person desires to be, no matter how religious, darkness will reveal its true essence in the behavior – of “the good and the evil”. 

Already before the creation, the Creator had a plan to rectify that which He knew would take place.  The foundation of the gospel of the Kingdom of life and light from the Torah, that the apostles knew, understood, and went out to proclaim is summed up in a statement in 1 Peter 1:19-20. In reference to the Lamb and His blood Peter says: … precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Messiah.  For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world (emphasis added).  In the book of Revelation John mentions the Lamb about 20 times. One verse, in particular, stands out as it too points back to eternity past, this time to the book of the Lamb, who was:slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8b emphasis added). However, Yeshua was not the only one known before the foundation of the world, for the Father “chose us in Him [the Lamb] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:4).  

The book of Eicha (Lamentations) is always read on the 9th of Av, or actually recited in the form of a dirge. In one of the many lamentations of this book, in chapter 2:1 the writer addresses YHVH with the following: "How has YHVH darkened in his wrath the daughter of Zion! he has cast down the glory of Israel from heaven to earth and has not remembered his footstool". Mankind as a whole could intone in a similar manner its great loss.  But even in the midst of the worst descriptions of sin, iniquity, and their aftermath, another declaration goes forth by the same author: "the punishment of your iniquity has been completed and finished daughter of Zion" (Lam. 4:22 emphasis added). How much more should we rejoice, having been chosen in the Lamb before the foundation of the world for complete atonement and forgiveness through His blood?

"The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light…" (Romans 13:12) For He has "…delivered us from the power of darkness, and has delivered us into the kingdom of his dear Son…" (Colossians 1:13). 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Dvarim – Dvarim (Deuteronomy) 1 – 3:22

 “Dvarim” is the book of Deuteronomy and lends its name to our Parasha. “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan…” (1:1).D’varim” (singular - “davar”), of the root d.v/b.r (dalet, bet/vet, resh) which is also the root for “midbar” that we encountered in the opening Parasha of the book of Bamidbar - Numbers - refers to “words”. Thus, the names of the books of Bamidbar and Dvarim (as well as their respective contents) are connected by the root d.v.r, alluding to the Word (“davar”) spoken in the desert (“midbar”). Dvarim is also known as “Mishneh Torah”, mentioned in Dvarim 17:18 as part of the instructions for a future monarch. This term suggests copying since “mishneh” originates with the root sh.n.h, (shin, mem, hey) meaning to “repeat” (and hence copy). However, “mishneh” also means “secondary” (with “two” – “sh’na’yim” - sharing the same root, thus being related to “second”). This may indicate that the book at hand is a “secondary Torah”, as it is a kind of synopsis of the three previous tomes (not including B’resheet).

In 1:5 we read: “On the other side of the Jordan Moses began explaining this law”, but more literally it says that Moshe was “willing to undertake” (“ho’eel” of the root y.a.l, yod, alef, lamed) to expoundba’er - the Torah”, thus summing up the essence of this fifth book of the Pentateuch. Referring to this summary as… “expounding the Torah” lends (once again) a broader meaning to this term.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament sheds more light on “ho’eel”: “The primary meaning of this root is ‘to make a volitional decision to commence a given activity…’  This volitional decision to begin an act clearly indicates the function of one’s mind to initiate… The verb concentrates on the volitional element rather than upon emotional or motivational factors. It stresses the voluntary act of the individual’s will to engage in a given enterprise, not what may have brought him to that decision… Theologically this verb strongly supports the concept of man’s free will, for man can make decisions to initiate any given action (within human control), but God holds him responsible for that volitional decision”.[1] This is not the first time that the verb “ho’eel” is ‘attached’ to Moshe. After having rescued Re’u’el’s (Yitro) daughters at the well and accepting their father’s invitation, it says that “Moses was content – va’yo’el – to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses” (Ex. 2:21. Another example is found in 1st Samuel 12:22, where for “ho’eel” the translation is “pleased” – although not totally accurate.)

Back to the present. Moshe is exercising his will, resolving to “ba’er” (expound) the Torah to the People of Yisrael. “Ba’er” (b.a.r. bet, alef, resh) is to make distinct, declare, make plain”, and shares its root with “be’er” which is a “well or cistern”. Although it is not altogether certain whether there is an etymological connection between “making plain” and “well”, the fact that the word for “eye” and “water spring” is one and the same in Hebrew (“ayin”), indicates that while water is connected to the act of seeing, it may also be related to ‘understanding’, which is another form of ‘seeing’. By expounding on YHVH’s words, Moshe was certainly providing the Israelites with clear, thirst-quenching, well-drawn living water in the dry desert.

In 1:9,12, Moshe uses the familiar verb “nasso”, to carry, lift, bear a burden”, which has been used particularly in Bamidbar (Numbers), with even a Parasha by that name (Num. 4:21…). From Moshe’s speech, we learn how heavy of a burden this people was for him at times, although the One who had truly carried and cared for them was their Elohim. Thus, Moshe himself admits, in 1:31, that, "in the wilderness… you saw how YHVH your Elohim carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place" (emphases added).

When Moshe stresses just judgment (in 1:17) he says: “You shall not respect persons in judgment…” which in Hebrew is, “you shall not acknowledge, or know, or recognize [anyone’s] face in judgment” (ha’ker panim), as “recognizing” one person above another does away with an impartiality which is indispensable for meting out justice. Thus, one is not to prefer one’s relatives, friends, or associates over strangers.  “Recognize a face” - as presented here – appears in other places as “carry a face” (having the same meaning as recognizing a face), such as in Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:15, regarding the prohibition to show partiality to the poor. Yet in spite of the usage of the theme of “carrying” used in the present passage (as we saw above), when ‘carrying out’ justice is mentioned (in 1:17), this common idiom of “carrying/lifting a face” (that is, being partial) is strangely omitted, and instead “recognizing a face” is the idiom of choice.

Recently we have been noticing that the word used for “tribe/s” has been “ma’teh/matot” (“rod/rods”), in contrast to the more common word shevet” (sh.v.t, shin, vet, tet, which also means “rod, staff, club, scepter” and also a live branch). The “rod and staff [which] will comfort me” (of Psalm 23:4) are, respectively, “shevet” and “mish’e’net” (which is a staff specifically for leaning on). In chapter 1 the references to the tribes (vs. 13, 15) are couched in the term “shevet”.  “Shevet” is also the rod that if a father spares, may earn him the reputation of one who hates his son (ref. Prov. 13:24). The usage of “shevet”, refers to didactic reproof (as preparation before entering the land and starting out a new life), is therefore quite appropriate in this 5th book of the Pentateuch! ("I will make you pass under the rod..." in Ezekiel 20:37, where “shevet” is used, is a key verse regarding Yisrael’s restoration.) But what is so striking about this monologue to the younger generation, most of whom would not have participated in the events which Moshe is mentioning, is that he is addressing his audience in the second person as though all of them had been responsible and had participated in those events. It seems that at this particular juncture Moshe is using this as another educational tool (even with the view of its relevance for future generations).   

Continuing in chapter 1, we see that one of the lessons that Moshe wishes to draw from is the story of the spies (v. 22ff). “Why did he not also refer to the sin of the Golden Calf? “Why did he select the sin of the spies and omit all the other historical experiences?” These are questions posed by Nechama Leibowitz. She then goes on to cite Hoffman who, “illuminatingly points out that Moses wishes to refer to an exactly parallel situation. The children of Israel were once again on the threshold of the Promised Land, just as their ill-fated parents had been, thirty-eight years previously. Let them not forfeit the Land once again…” Moshe, therefore, issues a warning to “the children of Israel against once more forfeiting the land by their lack of faith…” [2]

The spies’ story truly serves to illustrate accurately the Israelites’ skepticism. In 1:22 we read: “And you came near to me, every one of you, and said, 'let us send men before us, and they shall search out the land for us…'” It is significant that the request for a surveillance report of the land by “every one of you… coming [or drawing] near” is interpreted (in the above quote) as a lack of faith. (This, is in contrast to the original story in Parashat Sh’lach Le’cha, Bamidbar – Numbers: 13:1-2; 32:8, where YHVH is presented as being the initiator of the plan). Another “drawing near” is mentioned in the next Parasha, when Moshe recalls the scene at Chorev (Horeb). “And it happened, when you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain burned with fire, you came near to me, all the rulers of your tribes, and your elders, and you said… ‘If we hear the voice of YHVH your Elohim anymore, then we shall die. For who of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living Elohim speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and has lived? You go near and hear all that YHVH our Elohim may say, and you shall speak to us all that YHVH our Elohim may speak to you…’” (5:23-27, italics added). We see that at the time of the giving of the Torah, the elders and leaders of Yisrael had a real concern about “drawing near” to YHVH, and instead “drew near” to Moshe and asked him to act on their behalf. If this was the leaders’ attitude, it is no wonder that sometime later the entire nation (“every one of you”) displayed a similar apprehension regarding YHVH’s promises, which is why that whole generation was condemned to die in the wilderness.

Moshe goes on to recount the sad episode, all those years back, recalling that the ones who had displayed unbelief, insisted later to go up and fight the enemy (ref. 1:41) against YHVH’s wishes (as if to make up for their former attitude). YHVH declared, therefore, that they would be “struck” before their enemies (ref. v. 42). The word used for “struck” is “tinagfu” of the root n.g.f (noon, gimmel, fey). “Negef” and “mage’fa” mean “plague or pestilence”, and are usually divinely ordained for the purpose of discipline, such as in the case before us.  In Bamidbar (Numbers) 16:46, 47 we read about the plague (“magefa”) which followed the rebellion of Korach and his band. Later, in Vayikra 25:8,9, mention was made of the “magefa” that plagued the Israelites in the wake of the Baal Pe’or episode and the daughters of Mo’av, whereas in Sh’mot (Exodus) 12:13, it was the Egyptians who were “struck” while the Israelites remained untouched.

Back to our chronology as is recounted by Moshe: In spite of YHVH’s warning, Yisrael “rebelled and … acted proudly and went up into the hills” (Deut. 1: 43). “[you] acted proudly” reads here (va)taz’du" (root zayin, dalet). Back in B’resheet (Genesis) 25, in Parashat Toldot, Ya’acov was seen “cooking a stew”, which in Hebrew is “va'ya'zed na'zid" (v. 29). We learned there that although “stew” is “nazid”, the root "zed” also means “pride, rebellion or presumptuousness”. Thus, Ya'acov was cooking up a non-too healthy stew for his brother, and according to the present passage, his progeny’s conduct even surpassed that of their forefather's.

The ensuing result of this failed attempt to go to battle is reported in Dvarim 1:44: “And the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out to meet you and they chased you, as the bees do, and drove you back from Seir to Hormah”.  In Shmot (Exodus) 23:28 it says: “And I will send hornets before you which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite before you”. However, because of disobedience and rebellion, the Israelites incurred defeat and they were chased by so many (proverbial) bees, being “driven back” all the way from Se’ir and Chorma.  The latter happens to stem from the root ch.r.m (chet, resh, mem), rendered “cherem” which in this case means “destruction”.  In Bamidbar (Numbers) 21:1-3, we read: “And the king of Arad the Canaanite… heard that Israel had come… and he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. And Israel vowed a vow to YHVH, and said, ‘if You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy [(ve)he’cheramti] their cities'. And YHVH listened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites, and they utterly destroyed [(va)yacharem] them and their cities, and the name of the place was called Hormah [Chorma]” (italics and emphasis added). However, Moshe’s narration here lets us know that destruction was also the lot of the Israelites, who at that point “sat and wept before YHVH, but YHVH would not listen [to them]” (Deut. 1:45) following the episode recounted above (in verse 44).

Chapter 2 contains Moshe’s reviews of some geographical and historical facts. As part of preparing the young Israelites for their relocation, he wants them to have a geographical and historical orientation and perspective. This is particularly true in 2:9-12, 18-23. Some of the names of the peoples mentioned are rather revealing. In 2:10 we read about the “Eimeem” (Emims). “Eima” is “fear, dread or horror” (for example, in the Covenant Between the Torn Pieces it says: “… and behold a terror – “eima” – of great darkness,” Gen. 15:12). These “Eimim” are compared to, or regarded as the Anakim (Deut. 2:11) who are the giants described by the spies (Num. 13:28). Mention is then made of the “Rfa’eem.” The root r.f.a. (resh, fey, alef) is used several times to describe the dead, or dwellers of She’ol.  In Yisha’yahu (Isaiah) 14:9 we read: “Sheol from beneath is excited over you to meet you when you come; It arouses for you the spirits of the dead (“rfa’eem”)….” The Rfa’eem were also considered among the giants (and are mentioned in B’resheet 14:5). According to 2:20, the giants were also called “Zam’zumeem”, and lived in the land that was “considered the land of the Rfa’eem” (literal translation). This latter fact may have rendered that land the “land of the dead”, perhaps subtly hinting that YHVH will “begin to put your dread and your fear on the face of the people under all the heavens, who will hear your fame, and will tremble and writhe because of you” (2:25 italics added).

Appropriately the Parasha ends with the following: “Do not fear them for YHVH your Elohim, He shall fight for you” (3:22). But these descriptions of the vanquishing of the former dwellers of the lands of Seir (Edom), Moav and Ammon for the sake of Esav-Edom ((Yitzchak’s son) and Lot’s grandsons serve also as encouragement to the Israelites, as to their awaiting land of promise.  

Before concluding, let us examine a leitmotif which is repeated a number of times in our Parasha and is first seen in 1:8 (and then in 1:21): “See, I have placed the land before you (lit. “to your faces”) go in and possess [“r’shu” – wrest it by impoverishing its present residents] the land which YHVH swore to give to your fathers… and to their seed after them” (italics added). This repeated declaration is preceded, in verse 7, by the imperative “p’nu” (turn) which stems from the same root as “face” (see also 1:40, 2:1, 8). It seems that before YHVH will “give/place” the land before His people, they are required to make a “turn”. Last week we examined briefly “yerusha” as one of the words for an inheritance, which is rooted in the verb “roshesh”, used here by YHVH in its imperative form. YHVH declares that He has already “given/placed” – “natati” - the land before His people (1:20, 21, 39), but that it was incumbent upon them to do their duty. First, they had to “turn” and then “see”. That is, they had to realize, by exercising faith, what their heavenly Father had already accomplished. Secondly, they had to go and take/wrest the land, based upon the former realization and premise, and act, again, in faith. In 2:5,9,19, respectively, YHVH likewise declares that He “has given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession” and “has given Ar (Mo’av) to the sons of Lot as a possession” [“yerusha” – the same term He uses for Yisrael’s inheritance or possession), and the same regarding the Ammonites. However, “before them” is significantly missing. Thus, although YHVH is sovereign over all peoples, even the ones whose possessions He is protecting, He is notably treating His own in an exceptional manner.

In 2:31, YHVH declares again to His people (literal translation): “See, I have begun to give/place – “natati” – Sihon and his land over to you. Impoverishing begin to impoverish his land”. In the case of Sichon and his people, Yisrael’s Elohim also announces that it is He who has “hardened his [Sichon’s] spirit and made his heart obstinate” (2:30), having “mercy on whom He will, and whom He wills He hardens” (ref. Rom. 9:18).

Thus, as just mentioned, while YHVH is totally sovereign and controls all people groups, we notice that He places certain expectations upon Yisrael, who are to apply their conscious will (like Moshe, at the beginning of the Parasha) and act volitionally in faith and obedience to their Maker and King, with the Land of Promise being the venue for such actions. "To whom much is given…" (Luke 12:48).

1. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Vol. 1, ed. R. Laird Harris, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980

2. New Studies in Devarim, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh   Newman. Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora. Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Paddling in the Fog

"Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of YHVH has risen upon you.  For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples; but YHVH will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you” (Isaiah 60:1-2). This is probably one of the most quoted scriptures from Isaiah. Having been put to music, many a believer in Yeshua sings these words with gusto, as the Messiah said of Himself: "I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12 emphases added).  This light is eternal life, "it" is Yeshua the Word who in B'resheet (Genesis) chapter one was the Word that became Light. John wrote: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). 

In the above-quoted, the prophet uses two terms to denote “darkness”-   cho'shech in Hebrew - and "gross darkness" - a'ra'fel.  This last Hebrew word is used today to describe a dark cloud or if it is near the ground, fog.  If you have ever been driving in a dense fog, where you can’t even see the front of your car it obviously presents a very dangerous situation, especially at night as your headlights are mainly to let others know that you are near or close by.  Isaiah, along with many others, warns us about a spiritual reality of all-encompassing darkness.   A'ra'fel can be defined as water vapor that is made up of very small particles, and under certain atmospheric conditions will become fog, a cloud, or condense on different objects as dew.  We have all seen the beautiful rainbow colors that are reflected as the light passes through a water droplet, which reminds me of Micah 5:7: “Then the remnant of Jacob will be among many peoples like dew from YHVH, like showers on vegetation” (emphases added). The apostle Jacob (James) states that we are like a mist that appears for a time (4:14). But at the same time, we are also to be part of a great cloud of witnesses that will comprise YHVH’s glory cloud.

If we are living in the latter days, the darkest of darkness all around should not surprise us. So much so, that it is likely to take the form of the plague of darkness that beset the Egyptians before Israel’s exodus. “And YHVH said to Moses, stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even a darkness which may be felt (Exodus 10:21 emphasis added).  Have you ever frequented places where you could literally feel the presence of evil? I have.  Yes, we may have the light of lights - Yeshua - in our lives and inner-being but it doesn’t mean that we will not experience this surrounding darkness and its attempts to fog our minds and will.  But what do we do, or how do we respond, when we find ourselves encompassed by gross darkness, and when it seems like brothers and sisters are nowhere around (although in the foggy darkness they may be only a few steps away)? 

Let me share a personal experience that provided me with some insight. I was canoeing, one time, on a small lake nearby my parents' home, returning from duck hunting, when the fog rolled in and I couldn’t see the shoreline.  I thought I was paddling the canoe in the right direction but as time went on and I wasn’t reaching my destination, I found myself in a predicament.  Just then a thought came to mind; to listen, perhaps there would be a familiar sound that could help direct my course.  I knew that nearby our home there was a farm, so as I listened closely, I soon heard one of the farmer's cows moo.  That was helpful but cows don’t always continue to make that sound, so it was not a wholly reliable reference point.  After a few minutes, a rooster crowed which also was helpful to get me back on course, but again that did not last for long.  Every once in a while I would stop paddling and just listen.  A car was traveling down a country road that I knew was west of the farm, which was also helpful to re-orient the bow of the canoe.  One thing about fog is that sound carries quite easily.  The farmer’s dog was the most helpful because foggy conditions startled him and he would start barking at the tiniest unfamiliar movement or sound.  Needless to say, I found my way back to the shore near the farm and then followed the shoreline to get home.  

Many are waking up to their Hebrew root identity and are reciting or singing the “Shema,” from Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear, O Israel! YHVH is our Elohim, YHVH is one!”  Hearing of course has to do with listening, but that particular Hebrew word - "shema" - is also connected to obedience. In other words, when you hear His voice, start paddling in the direction that the sound is coming from, this is the only way to find your way back home to Zion. 

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Mas’ey – Bamidbar (Numbers) 33 – 36

We have come to the end of Bamidbar (Numbers), to Parashat Masa’ey which starts off by: “These are the journeys of – “mas’ey” - the sons of Israel… (33:1, emphasis added), “and Moses wrote their departures according to their journeys by the mouth of YHVH. And these are their journeys, according to their departures” (v. 2). Although Moshe is entirely familiar with the journeys and the name of each location that the people of Yisrael had gone through, and/or encamped at, the account which will now follow (vs. 3- 49) is dictated to him “by the mouth of YHVH”.  

Wondering as to the importance of these technical details, some of the sages, including Rashi, have concluded that this list was to serve as a reminder to the people of YHVH’s watchfulness over them, and of His attention to each and every detail pertaining to their lives and destiny.  Thus, the name of each place is used as a device to invoke in them the memory of YHVH’s care for them.  According to Maimonides, the names of the places are a testimony intended to verify that they have indeed stayed at the locations mentioned; places where only YHVH Himself could have sustained them, thusly bringing to their minds the miracles which He wrought for them.  Sforno adds to this: “The Lord blessed be He desired that the stages of the Israelites’ journeyings be written down to make known their merit in their going after Him in a wilderness, in a land that was not sown [ref. Jer. 2:2] so that they eventually deserved to enter the land.  ‘And Moses wrote’ – he wrote down their destination and place of departure. For sometimes that place for which they were headed was evil and the place of departure good… Sometimes the reverse happened. He wrote down too the details of their journeyings because it involved leaving for a new destination without any previous notice, which was very trying. Despite all this, they kept to the schedule…’ In other words, according to Sforno the Torah shows us both sides of the coin. We have been shown an Yisrael “composed of rebels and grumblers, having degenerated from the lofty spiritual plane of their religious experience at Mount Sinai… Now the Torah changes its note and shows us the other side of the picture, Israel loyal to their trust, following their God through the wilderness… They followed Him in spite of all the odds, through the wildernesses of Sinai, Etham, Paran and Zin… that was also a place of fiery serpents and scorpions and drought where there was no water, where our continued existence would have been impossible, were it not?for?the?grace?of?God…”[2]


Upon completing the inventory of the (past) journeys, attention is now being turned to the future: the boundaries of the land of Promise, the names of the men who are to help the people possess their inheritance, the cities apportioned to the Levites, and the cities of refuge. Thus, we read in Chapter 34 the details regarding the extent of the territory of the inheritance. In an era when defined borders did not exist, this was a novelty that underscores, once again, the importance YHVH attaches to the land and to its occupation. About the land of C’na’an it says that it “shall fall to you as an inheritance” (v.2 emphasis added). The usage of this verb in this context demonstrates that Yisrael’s lot was predestined and predetermined. Additionally, it “… is the land which you shall inherit by lot, which YHVH has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe” (emphasis added). As to the land that was to be occupied by the two and a half tribes, in 34:13b-15 (according to the Hebrew text), it is written that the two and a half tribes “took” their inheritance. Hence, a clear distinction is made between the land which is apportioned and the land that is taken by choice. It is here that YHVH also appoints those “who will take possession of the land for you” (34:17ff). As to the cities of the Levites, who are to dwell in the other tribes’ territories, it says: “Command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites cities to live in, from the land of their possessions, and you shall give to the Levites open land for the cities” (35:2).


Open land” (or “common land”) is “migrash”. One of the words for “inheritance” is “yerusha” (e.g. 33:52, 53, the latter used there in verb form “yarashtem”). In both words is embedded the term “impoverish” (being a reference to the party from whom one’s inheritance is wrested). “Migrash”, which the Levites were to be granted, are of the root (gimmel, resh, shin) with its primary meaning to “cast or drive out”. “Yerusha”, taking possession, is of the root (yod, resh, shin), and connected to another root, (resh, shin, shin) which means to “beat down, shatter” and lends itself to the noun “rash” – “poor, poverty-stricken” (e.g. 1st 18:23; 2nd Sam. 12;4 and several times in Proverbs).


Hebrew certainly does not conceal or embellish the hard-core facts and does not make attempts at being politically correct.  As a matter of fact, from Matthew 11:12 we learn that the Kingdom of Heaven is also “seized by force”.  Thus, in taking hold of YHVH’s possession (and their inheritance), the Israelites had to “impoverish” and “cast out” the inhabitants of the land.  When “Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian… mocking, she said to Abraham, ‘Drive away [“ga’resh”] this slave-girl and her son, for the son of this slave-girl shall not inherit [“yirash” – will cause another to be impoverished] with my son, with Isaac’” (Gen. 21:9,10).


The next topic is that of the cities of refuge and their respective guidelines, one of which states that if a person has slain someone unintentionally, he is to remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest and only then return to the “land of his possession [inheritance]” (35: 25, 28).  Similarly, it is only through the death of our High Priest that we too have been released, and may now come out of our proverbial confinement into the freedom of our inheritance (ref. Acts 20:32; 26:18; Eph. 1:11; Col. 3:24; Heb. 9:15). This fact gains even more validity when we read the last part of the chapter: “And you shall take no ransom [kofer, of the root k.f/p.r – kippur] for the life of a murderer; he is punishable for death, for dying he shall die. And you shall take no ransom [kofer] for him to flee to the city of his refuge, to return to dwell in the land, until the death of the priest. And you shall not pollute the land in which you are, for blood pollutes the land. And no ransom [kofer] is to be taken for the land for blood which is shed in it, except for the blood of him who sheds it; and you shall not defile the land in which you are living. I dwell in its midst, for I, YHVH, am dwelling among the sons of Israel” (35:31-34). The blood of Yeshua our High Priest has purified both ourselves and our earthly inheritance, and at the same time has also gained for us a heavenly one (ref. 1Pet. 1:4).


According to the English translation, the cities of refuge are to be “selected” or “appointed” (35:11).  The Hebrew, on the other hand, reads: “You shall cause cities to occur (for yourselves)… “ve’hik’re’tem” – root k.r.h (kof, resh, hey, which we encountered in Gen. 24:12, Parashat Cha’yey and Balak  Num. 23:4,16).  This expression is an oxymoron, as one’s will is either actively involved, or else things occur in a happenstance manner, or (more likely) by Providence beyond one’s control. Once again, the Hebraic mentality presents a challenge, pointing to the place where Providence and man’s choice meet, even at the expense of defying human logic. 


YHVH’s meticulous attention to the place He has set apart is seen again in the last chapter of Parashat Masa’ey, where we learn that “no inheritance of the sons of Israel shall turn from tribe to tribe, for each one of the sons of Israel shall cling to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And any daughter that possesses an inheritance from any tribe of the sons of Israel to one of the families of the tribe of her father is to become a wife of the family of the tribe of her father, so that the sons of Israel may each possess the inheritance of his father. And the inheritance shall not turn from one tribe to another tribe. For the tribes of the sons of Israel shall each one cling to its own inheritance, as YHVH commanded Moses” (36:7-9 emphases added). The word for “turn” here, is in the future tense, is “tisov” of the root s.b.b (samech, bet, bet). “Savav” is to “turn about or go around”.  It is indicative of mobility, unstableness, and temporariness. The usage of this verb here lends an extra emphasis to the issue at hand: “For the tribes of Israel shall each cling – yid’b’ku, adhere, cleave like glue - to its own inheritance, as YHVH commanded…”  In B’resheet 2:24 we read: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother, and will cleave/adhere/cling to his wife and they will become one flesh”. YHVH declares above that He dwells in the midst of the land, among the sons of Yisrael (Num. 35:34), it is no wonder, therefore, that He is so very particular about the set-up of His abode.


The above paragraph is in reference to the appeal made to Moshe by "the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph" (36:1). These ones are concerned that Tzlofchad's daughters who have obtained permission to inherit their deceased father's property will marry into different tribes and thus the tribal inheritance, as we read above, will be lost. Moshe and the other leaders are attentive to this request and find the solution that is quoted in the above paragraph. What is striking about the passage in 36:1-4, when compared to Bamidbar 27:1-4, where the original request was made by the young women, is the usage of several identical terms/words. The daughter of Tzlofchad, literally, "drew near" (va'tik'rav'na)…  before Moshe and the other leaders, as do the "fathers of the families of" Manasseh – "vayik're'vu". The daughters are concerned lest their father's name "be diminished" – va'yi'gara – as is also the concern of the group of men from Manasseh, that "their inheritance will be", again, "diminished"- yi'gara – from the inheritance of our fathers… so it will be diminished – yi'gara – from the lot of our inheritance" (Num. 27:4; 36:3). Thus, whereas there are opposing interests at hand in this particular case, the usage of the same terms, with regard to each of the parties, reflects the acceptance and understanding granted to meet the need of each – truly a "win-win" solution.

1     New Studies in Bamidbar, Nechama Leibowitz, trans. Aryeh Newman, Eliner Library, Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, Hemed Books Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y.


Friday, July 22, 2022

Facing the Time

 "Elohim is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah" (Psalm 46:1-3).

As you know, I’m not one to write about doomsday forecasts, but let's face it, for years the world has been challenged by many crises. This has been especially true most lately. Some of the recent episodes which have been played on the world stage are obviously orchestrated by the nations themselves (or a 'higher power' imposing its will on a given nation), or as a consequence of natural phenomena.  Yet ultimately everything is under the guidance and subject to the sovereign will of the Almighty Elohim of Israel, who is faithful to fulfill all that He has spoken, and that which He has put in the mouths of His prophets of old.

Of late the Northern Hemisphere nations have been experiencing record heat.  Obviously, the cause is attributed to global warming and fossil fuels.  The solution of course is the elimination of natural oil and gas and their resultant products.  The fact that the world economy is totally dependent on those antediluvian life forms, leaves the world’s decision-makers under a lot of pressure to do something about this situation, and other current challenges. Their solution to the global problems has been waiting in the wings for many decades, and it is focused on central world governance.

In order to bring this about, advantage has to be taken of chaos caused by these compounding situations such as war, food crises, natural disasters, alarming pandemics, and more. 

When considering the above-mentioned or other situations that have the potential of becoming calamitous, and viewing all of them in face of today’s world, the ingredients for what is called the “tribulation” all line up. Such scenarios are not new to the Christian world. We’ve been warned about this for centuries. The question is, are we prepared, or are we like Jonah sitting under a prosperity vine waiting to be raptured while looking for the wicked to experience the wrath of Elohim?  Or, to use another scriptural example, are we like Hezekiah who when told that the Babylonians were coming to take Jerusalem, pleaded with YHVH to not let it happen during his lifetime?  How sad that this king didn’t seem to care about the generation that would see the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple!  I’m wondering if some of our prayers are motivated toward the same end.  Are we trying to preserve the lifestyle of yesterday?

By now we have all heard the term “the great reset”, the idea of which was actually formulated way back in history.  The first reset was in the days of Noah, another was at the end of the Bronze Age when YHVH took Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  Probably the greatest of all resets occurred with the death and resurrection of Israel’s Messiah.  So, although the rich merchants of the earth are planning their “reset”, it isn’t really anything new. The beasts of Daniel are not any different from the ones mentioned in Revelation.  As with all of YHVH’s resets, they are accompanied by great upheavals and shakings, which are described in many of the texts of the prophets and by Yeshua, making it very clear that we are living in the times of YHVH’s next phase of impending changes. 

Recently a friend shared with me a word that he received during a worship service at his congregation.  The abbreviated version of that word goes something like this: “You are the clay, and as such you have been on the potter’s wheel and now it is time for you to be fired". 

But not to worry - there is a fourth Man in the fire!

Back to Psalm 46: "…Be still, and know that I am Elohim; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! YHVH of hosts is with us; The Elohim of Jacob is our refuge. Selah" (vs. 10-11).

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Hebrew Insights into Parashat Ma’tot Bamidbar (Numbers) 30 – 32

 In the opening verses (30:1-2) of our Parasha Moshe is seen addressing the “heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel”.  The word used here for tribes is “ma’tot” (plural, while singular is “ma’teh”). In Parashat Chu’kat we discovered that “ma’teh” is a rod or a staff (like the one Moshe used to hit the rock, Num. 20:8-11), and that this word is rooted in the verb “stretch out” but also means “incline, turn, or turn away”.  Thus, by implication, “ma’teh” is used for “tribe”, emanating from the rod of authority in the hand of the respective tribal leaders. (The other word for tribe, “shevet”, also means a “rod” or "staff".)  Here “mateh” is used solely for “tribe” or “tribes” (e.g. 31:4; 32:28).  In Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:26 we encountered another “staff”, that is “ma’teh lechem” which is the “staff of bread”. There it was used metaphorically for that which is leaned (or depended) upon, as indeed our bodies cannot do without bread (used there as a generic term for “food”). 

The first part of Parashat Ma’tot deals with oaths and prohibitions, and the annulment thereof (see Matt. 18:18-19). The passage starts with the mention of a vow or oath undertaken by a man and underscores the strict prohibition not to "break" them. "Break" or "annul" here is "yachel", which is rooted in ch.l.l, a multi-meaning root that we examined several times in the past. Here it points to "profaning", implying the profaning of the name of YHVH, as at the beginning of the verse it stated clearly that the oath and/or vow were made to Him. Continuing, in 30:3-5 we read: “And when a woman vows a vow to YHVH, and has bound a bond in the house of her father in her youth, and her father has heard her vow… and her father has remained silent… then all her vows shall stand... But if her father has prohibited her in the day he heard, none of her vows and her bond with which she has bound her soul shall stand. And YHVH will forgive her because her father prohibited her”.  “Prohibited” in both instances in this passage is “heh’nee,” of the root n.o.h (noon, vav, alef) meaning “hinder, restrain, or frustrate”. Similarly, in verse 8, the same verb is used: “If in the day her husband hears, he prohibits her…” (emphasis added). (Here there is a fascinating connection to the book of Esther).* 

The latter part of Parashat Ma’tot (chapter 32) presents the story of the sons of Re’uven and Gad who express to Moshe their desire to settle in the land of Gil’ad, on the eastern shore of the Yarden (Jordan). However, Moshe, being concerned that they may be separating themselves from their brethren and that their move could have a negative impact on the rest of the people, voices his misgivings and says: “And why do you discourage the heart of the sons of Israel from passing over to the land which YHVH has given to them?  So your fathers did when I sent them from Kadesh Barnea to see the land. And they went up to the valley of Eshcol and saw the land, and discouraged the hearts of the sons of Israel” (32:7-9). Here we find the verb n.o.h once again, but this time translated as “discourage or discouraged”.  Moshe attributes the same motives that operated in the hearts of the ten spies (in Parashat Sh’lach Lecha, Num. 13-15) to the two and a half tribes wishing to settle on the Yarden’s eastern shore.  He construes their wish as being one that would frustrate YHVH’s will, while at the same time incurring frustration in his listeners who no doubt were concerned lest their leader would frustrate their plans. Frustration and a feeling of hindrance would also be the experience of a woman, who after taking a vow and/or restricting herself in some way for Godly reasons and in good conscious, is prevented from going through with her commitments. 

The origin of the verb n.o.h is “rise with difficulty” [1] illustrating what we have noticed time and again, namely that Hebrew is a very concrete language and thus most of its abstract terms are actually borrowed from the tangible world.  Two other such terms in this Parasha are “bind” (see 30:3,4,5,6 ff), which is “assor” (a.s.r., alef, samech, resh) and literally means “imprison or imprisoned” (e.g. Gen. 40:3; Jud. 15:12-13; 1Sam. 6:7, etc.). Another one is “annul or make void” – “ha’fer” (in 30:12), whose root is “porer” (p.r.r. pey, resh, resh) and means to “crumble, break, shatter or destroy”. 

Returning to Moshe’s exhorting address to the two and a half tribes; the aging leader expresses his concern lest their actions would give rise to a “brood of sinful men” (32:14). The word used there is “tarbut”. which is of the root “rav” meaning “much, many, or great”, and is therefore simply a derivation of “increase or add”. Thus, Moshe is literally talking about an increase or spread of evil among them, without pointing to an existing grouping or a particular “brood”.  In verses 14b and 15 he adjoins: “[Lest] you still [will] add more to the burning anger of YHVH against Israel. For if you turn away from Him, He will add more to His abandoning of them [i.e. Yisrael] in the desert…” (literal translation).  Moshe is worried that the actions of the Reuvenites and Gaddaites would bring about an increase of evil and in this manner add to YHVH’s anger, adding disciplinary measures, resulting in more suffering for the people as a whole. 

Another main theme in our Parasha is the command directed at Moshe to “execute vengeance… against the Midianites, afterward, you [Moshe] shall be gathered to your people” (31:2).  In the preparations leading to this eventuality, Moshe calls out for men to be “prepared for the army” (31:3 literal translation).  However, “he-chal’tzu” (with root, chet, lamed, tzadi), which is the command used here for “be prepared”, actually means to “draw, pull out, or remove” (such as “removing” one’s foot out of a shoe, Deut. 25:9). Thus, the literal rendering of 31:3 should be: “Draw out from amongst yourselves men for the army…” Rabbi Mordechai Eilon, quoting Rabbi Yitzchak Arama, stresses that although the expression “draw out from amongst yourselves” is in reference to a select group, it actually points to the ‘whole’ from which this group is to be drawn, implying the involvement of the entire group. In this way, by virtue of being represented by the “cha’luztim” (plural for “cha’lutz”, “those who plod ahead;” see also 32:20, 21 translated “arm yourself”), the whole army will be participating in the battle. Aside from meaning “drawn out”, the root also speaks of being removed from one’s customary environment and comfort zone, indicating that the vanguards were willing to venture and forge the way ahead of everyone else. The additional meaning of the verb cha’letz - “to rescue and deliver” (used a number of times in the Psalms) - is totally compatible with the readiness of the two and a half tribes to help their brethren. 

In view of this, when the Re’uvenites and Gaddites declare later (in 32:17): “We shall ourselves go armed” (which reads, “va’necha’letz”, again of the root, their intent appears much clearer. They are saying in fact that after making basic provisions for their families and livestock, they will “remove” themselves from all that is familiar to them and will “hurry and go ahead of the sons of Israel until we bring them to the place which is theirs…” (32:17, literal translation).  In his response, Moshe states that each of them is to be a “cha’lutz” for his brother, (while stressing that failing to do so will be considered a sin “before YHVH” vs. 20-23).  Their response is again marked by the term “cha’lutz” (v. 27). Moshe repeats this condition; namely, that only if they will act as “chalutzim” will they be entitled to land on the Yarden’s eastern shore.  In their reply, the Gaddaites and Re’uvenites confirm their readiness to “go over… as chalutzim… before YHVH into the land of Canaan, so that the land of our inheritance on that side of Jordan may be ours” (v. 32).  

Interestingly, the first time the root shows up in Scripture is in Genesis 35:11, where the Almighty promises Abraham that, “…a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come out of your loins” (sometimes translated “body”).  “Loins” in that text is “chalatza’yim” - the strong body part. The root also lends itself to festive or royal robes. Yehoshua the High Priest was dressed in such robes (ma’ch’la’tzot) in exchange for his filthy ones (ref. Zech. 3:4).  Finally, in the Hebrew translation of Hebrews 6:20, Yeshua, as the forerunner who entered behind the veil for us, is called “Yeshua he’cha-lutz”. 

Aside from declaring their willingness to go forth as a vanguard before their brethren in their campaign to take over the land, the two tribes also use another term (translated “ready to go”, 32:17) – chushim – which underscores their determination and readiness to act “hastily” (see Is. 60:22). At the same time, they also describe to Moshe their plans (regarding their land in the eastern side of the Jordan), saying:” We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones...” (32:16). Moshe, for his part repeats these words a little later, with a slight modification: “Build cities for your little ones and folds for your sheep...” (v. 24). The experienced leader resets their priorities, ‘take care of your families, and then attend to your flocks...’

* When Mordechai begged Esther to plead the Jews’ case before king Achashverosh, he added that she could forfeit her life if she were to “keep silent” (Esther 4:14). Esther was to go and try to annul the king’s “vow”, much like the husband or father in our Parasha in the case of his wife’s/daughter’s vow making. In the Parasha, if the male were to keep silent (same word used in Esther) for more than a day, the vow would remain valid but the said male would bear its consequences, if there were any, just like Esther would have done had she kept silent. Typical of the book of Esther’s “technique of opposites”, there it is the female who was in a position to annul a harmful vow taken by her husband.

This point was extracted from Rabbi Fohrman’s study on Esther

 In Shmot (Exodus) 19:8 and 24:7, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the People of Yisrael made a promise (oath or vow-like) to obey YHVH. But since Yisrael did not keep her word, the consequences ultimately fell on her. Because YHVH, her husband, did not annul her ‘vow’, He too was ‘held responsible for her sin of breaking her promise-vow. This is seen very clearly by the fact that Yeshua “bore her guilt”, as it says in 30:15 (see also 1st Peter 2:24).



            [1] The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon, Francis Brown   

             Hendrickson.  Publishers, Peabody, Mass. 1979